Maintaining Relationships with Funeral Business Client Families

It’s something nearly every funeral professional hates to see: An obituary for someone from a family served for generations, who this time chose another funeral home. Things have changed during the past decade or so, which affects the way funeral directors must think about their funeral business.

There are several reasons why a member of a family served by your firm for many years might choose another funeral home—and it’s not always because of poor service. Conversely, there are many things funeral professionals don’t do to communicate ongoing value to consumers who have experiences with their firms and remain relevant in those families’ lives. It is simply not good practice to only be present when there is a death in the family.

Keep reading to discover some of the reasons why families are not so “locked in” to one funeral service provider or another, beyond a poor experience, and what your firm can do to maintain those relationships.

Why Families May Choose Another Firm


Transient Population

People move away from their hometowns. They move for careers, spouses, children and grandchildren. Sometimes they return home, but loyalties to businesses may not remain intact. Often, the person responsible for planning a funeral for a parent has been away long enough to have forgotten the family’s traditional funeral home.

What you should know: A number of factors may influence how an uninformed, grieving, stressed-out person chooses a funeral home for a parent from afar. The first of these factors is not knowing what funeral homes may exist or if a particular funeral director is still working. Other factors may include funeral costs and whether decisions have been made in advance, including if cemetery property has been purchased.

The “Sandwich Generation”

This is related to the situation mentioned above. The sandwich generation is an identifier for a large and growing segment of the population who find themselves caring for and financially supporting both their children and parents. A blessing and a burden, this situation can place enormous strain while also providing an opportunity to connect with elder family members in ways that create lasting memories. Nonetheless, sandwich-generation decision-makers are influenced by their financial situations and what their elderly or ill parents want.

What you can do: Communicating value and maintaining relationships with this segment of the population helps ensure that, when it comes time to make end-of-life decisions, your firm is among the resources sought to help with tasks that are simultaneously heartbreaking and joyful.

Access to Information

The Internet—a vast expanse of knowledge and data spanning cradle to grave and everything in between. If you think funeral professionals should be focused only on topics related to the “grave,” you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity. People who moved from their hometowns long ago may one day need to arrange for end-of-life care for an elderly or ill parent. They’ll go online to search for long-term care or hospice facilities, as well as to connect with a funeral home when death occurs.

What you can do: If your firm does not have a robust, optimized website, you’re sure to be missed in this search for service providers—even if using your firm has been the family’s choice for generations. Lack of a strong website and social media presence or failure to keep in touch with survivors after providing services are sure ways to see loyalty and opportunities for long-term service erode.

A Strained Economy

A very slow economic recovery has put a strain on families, affecting all kinds of purchasing decisions. This includes funeral service planning. A quick online search will return many options for families who feel they need lower-cost options, and there are plenty of family services organizations that assist seniors with finding lower-cost products and services. Unfortunately, a price-focused approach to funeral planning often results in a poor experience for survivors.

What you can do: It is so important to understand what consumers know and demands in terms of memorialization, funeral service, cremation and burial, so you can fill in the information gaps. This way, people can make confident decisions. Plus, you’ll be viewed as a trusted advisor on end-of-life matters.

A More Compelling Offer

Even if a family has always used a funeral home’s services, they are still exposed to marketing messages from competitors. If one of those firms reaches out with an appealing offer, the family may decide they’re ready to make a change.

What you can do: A robust funeral home marketing strategy allows you to educate consumers about the services you offer and what differentiates your firm from other options. Get a good foundation for your strategy by conducting market research, and then develop a plan that leverages your firm’s strengths.

Misconceptions About Your Firm

Many firms that have served a community for generations offer a full range of personalized services. But it’s possible that consumers in the community only associate the firm with traditional services and think the funeral business won’t be able to help them with newer offerings and customization.

What you can do: This factor can also be addressed with a comprehensive marketing strategy, including public relations efforts. Become a resource for personalized funeral service information in your community through presentations for local organizations and by providing content for local newspapers or radio stations.

Not Meeting Expectations

Funeral directors are committed to providing outstanding services for every family, every time. But sometimes, a disappointing experience isn’t objectively a bad experience; it’s just one that doesn’t quite match a client’s expectations. The disappointment can be even stronger if a family has always been satisfied with a firm’s services in the past.

What you can do: While some factors are beyond a funeral director’s control, disappointments can often be avoided through communication and setting clear expectations for what the family will receive from you. If they have previously planned or attended a service with you, ask what they liked about the funeral to ensure that nothing that they want or expect will be inadvertently omitted during the planning process.

A Negative Review

This factor is closely tied to the expectations that families have. Even a small disappointment can be instantly magnified if someone shares their negative feedback through conversations or online reviews. If a long-time customer learns about the experience, it could motivate them to consider other options.

What you can do: The best course of action is to work with the client family to resolve an issue as soon as you learn about it. Be responsive to feedback, gathering as much information as you can and addressing concerns directly to help ensure a positive outcome for the family. This demonstrates your commitment to your clients’ satisfaction and willingness to correct and prevent issues in the future. 

Ineffectively Communicating Value

Today’s consumers are less interested in who you are than in what you can do for them. When a firm doesn’t communicate the value of what they provide in exchange for the cost of its services, long-time client families may no longer feel a strong connection.

What you can do: Your client families need to understand the end benefits of their options in order to make more satisfying choices. Beyond explaining the practical details of what families get as part of their services, share how those features translate into lasting value.

How to Maintain relationships with families

The common factor in many of the above scenarios is that they can be prevented—or at least addressed—before they become bigger problems. To remain the top choice for long-time client families, firms need to understand their local market, respond effectively to client feedback and develop marketing strategies that relate to the real needs of families in the community. Here are a few additional ways you can avoid overstepping boundaries with long-term client families while maintaining those relationships:

Don't Create Feelings of Distrust

Trust is one of the most important aspects of funeral service. A family needs to trust that you’ll take care of their loved one to the best of your ability. When the funeral director helping my family made decisions without my input, I lost trust in him. This feeling of distrust was amplified by my grief and created tension between the funeral director and my family.

Treat the Family Like They're New

Even if you have known a family for many years, it’s important to use fresh eyes in an arrangement conference. Treating each meeting as if you’re meeting for the first time will give the family room to reflect on what they may or may not have liked about past funeral services.

Remember That Funeral Preferences Are Changing

As families begin to lean toward different types of funeral services, it’s even more important to avoid making assumptions. Families don’t want to feel pressured into certain arrangements just because a past family member had them. As generations change, it’s very possible that preferences will change with them.

Implement an Aftercare Program

Even after a family has left an arrangement conference, it’s still vital to remain top of mind. Enrolling your families in an aftercare program is not only beneficial for them, but it’s also a smart business move for you. There are several different kinds of aftercare programs that could work for your firm and your client families. Plus, many aftercare programs can generate leads for your preneed services.

Give Clients Opportunities to Share Their Stories

Testimonials are powerful advertising messages. People trust what others say about their experience with products and services, and many love telling their friends they should do the same thing. Personal recommendations build brands and help businesses sustain success.

Case in point: A recent Homesteaders' study shows that 98% of people who prearrange their funerals say they would at least consider recommending it. This same study revealed that 98% of prearrangers are “completely” to “very” satisfied with their decision. This is likely due to a combination of emotions related to the planning experience provided by the funeral home plus the fact that a big burden has been lifted.

In any event, if your firm provides the same kind of high-satisfaction service for families when the need for a funeral is immediate, you can bet they are going to talk about the experience to people in their spheres. Some may even be open to the idea of providing a public testimonial on behalf of your firm.

Don’t be afraid to ask if you can use comments, the name and even a photo of people who say they had a positive experience with your funeral home. Not only will you add to your success story, but it will also endear that family to you long after the experience they enjoyed—especially if you continue nurturing the relationship through direct mail, emails and social media.

Every family is different, and each family member may have a different idea of what funeral services they want for a loved one. It’s always a good idea to proceed with caution when you meet with a long-time family. What other methods have you found effective at maintaining relationships with client families? Share your success stories in the comments below.

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